Human Resource Minister Datuk Seri M. Saravanan said that most countries face two crises: the pandemic and economic crises, but in Malaysia we had a third crisis- a political crisis. Saravanan was speaking at the forum entitled-Workers Voice: Reality vs Hope organized by the Marhaen Coalition along with 4 other partners namely the Malaysian International Trade Union Council (UNI-MLC), Government Hospital Workers’ Union, Southern Region Electronics Industry Trade Union and Government Contract Workers Network (JPKK)
The virtual forum, which is part of the series of 7 forums is held in conjunction with World Poverty day. The forum attracted more than 200 participants on Zoom and Facebook.
The forum started with an opening remark by Datuk Mohammed Shafie Mammal of UNI-MLC who said that the pandemic paralyzed business operations and hundreds of workers lost their jobs. He also urged the government to conduct joint research with the Trade Unions to stop discrimination against workers. He said the continuous cooperation between workers and the government was necessary to protect workers rights.
Datuk Seri M. Saravanan then gave his inaugural speech and subsequently officiated the forum. He highlighted the various efforts played by his ministry to help the workers as well as the industry during the pandemic. However, he acknowledged that he has to balance the interests of employees and employers because he is responsible to ensure that no industry ceases operations in this country because these industries provide employment opportunities to employees.
The minister also said the ministry uses an online complaints application where over 10,000 complaints have been received and this is the best measure to protect the identity of employees and at the same time be able to monitor each case. Many cases have been resolved this way.
However, although the issue of the minimum wage was actively discussed in parliament and also in the housing coalition forum yesterday, the Minister only hinted and said that there would be good news on the increase in the minimum wage in the near future. A revaluation of the minimum wage is supposed to be announced in early 2022. The minister also said that his office doors are always open to hear workers’ problems.
After the opening session, a panel discussion followed with 4 panelists. The first panelist, Mohd Salleh from the Southern Region Electronics Industry Trade Union said that many workers became victims of Covid due to the irresponsible attitude of employers and confusing and complicated SOPs. He also raised concern on what had happened to the previous government’s proposal to achieve a 30% increase in union membership. Today less than 7% of workers are Trade Union Members.
Second panelist Margeret Chin; The President of Sabah Bank Employees described the main problem faced by bank employees especially during the pandemic where digitalization and this contributed in reducing the work force and at the same time increased the workload of employees. This situation also contributed to the mental health of employees who are burdened with various multitasking work.
V.Selvam, Industrial Relation Officer from the Government Hospital Workers ‘Union discussed the history of the contract system which was once opposed by the railway workers’ union (KTMB) in the 1960s. He blamed Dr. Mahathir Mohamed, who became the PM in 1981 as the father of privatization which caused the contract system to be widely practiced. He pointed out how Permanent Employees are placed under a contract system which resulting in them losing their job security rights. This is a violation under the Employment Act 1955 where contract work is only for temporary or seasonal work.
The last panelist, Puan Wardah Ibrahim who is a contract worker in a school in Perlis shared the issue of low salary and no salary increment. Wardah also revealed violations of labor laws by contractors such as non-payment of EPF and illegal pay cuts. She called for the abolition of the contract system in order to free these B40 workers from poverty.
The 2 -hour forum ended with the determination that workers should continue the fight to create a better environment for employees, especially at a time when their rights and job security are being eroded in a daily basis.